For centuries the town of Crook and Billy Row had made up the far western tip of the old parish of Brancepeth. This was a very large rural parish which extended for some ten miles east to west - thus Crook was about seven miles away from its parish church. In spite of the designation 'township' for most of its existence Crook and Billy Row was a sparsely populated rural area (with only about 200 people as late as the 1831 census).
In the Crook area the rich Durham coal seams are very close to the surface and easily accessible, but the difficulty of land transport of coal gave the pits only very limited local value. However this situation changed dramatically with the coming of the railways to South West Durham in the 1830s. By 1841 the population of Crook had risen to 538 as the local coal mines expanded.
The Diocese possibly felt the need for a 'missionary' exercise to establish an early Anglican presence in this rapidly developing town, located as it was in an area much converted to Methodism, and St. Catherine's Church was built in 1841-3. In 1845 Crook was set up as a separate parish (originally as a parochial chapelry within the parish of Brancepeth, but by 1859 as a completely separate parish).
The Crook parish boundaries in 1845 encompassed quite a large area. However the actual increase in population probably exceeded even the diocesan estimates and within thirty years the parish was sub-divided. First in 1872, the whole of the northern part was removed to form the separate parish of St. Thomas, Stanley; and then in 1889, the eastern end of the parish was split off, creating the major part of a new parish of St. John's, Sunnybrow.
After these changes, Crook parish consisted of the then built up area of Crook, most of Billy Row and a small rural area to the west. This caused difficulties over the subsequent years as new housing gradually extended the built up area of Crook outside the 1889 parish boundaries. This anomaly was corrected in 1996 and the whole of the built up area of Crook is now once again part of the parish of St. Catherine's.
The Town of Crook
Thanks go to Mrs Pauline Holbrook & Mr Anthony Young for their background research.